Posts Tagged ‘setting’

First off. Thanks to everyone who entered my contest. The winner is Christine Fonseca. I’ve got a copy of The Chosen One ready to mail to her.

Last week I spent an evening paddling an inflatable kayak down Goldstream Creek.

The optimal time to float Goldstream is just after the surface ice breaks up and the creek is high, basically two to three feet of water flowing over ice that has yet to melt. It’s a fun little crash through a tunnel of brush.

Just three miles down the road from Goldstream is O’Connor Creek.

What you see in the photo, taken the same day as the other photos, is called overflow ice. When O’Connor starts to freeze up in the fall there is enough pressure in this small stream that the water is forced upward through the ice. The water flows on top of the ice that’s already formed and then refreezes. This goes on all winter long if the air temperature is cold enough, which is not a problem here. Ice forms several feet thick and spreads out thirty or forty feet across, all from a trickle of a stream. 

O’Conner breaks up differently than Goldstream. I’ve seen ice in O’Conner Creek at the end of June. Here it is in May.

Seeing these two creeks, so different yet they share the same valley, got me thinking about setting and how authentic, specific details can bring a work to life.

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of beta-reading one of Terry Lynn Johnson’s WIPs. She uses specific setting details to continually drive the story forward. One of the many ways we get to know her MC is through her physical, psychological and emotional responses to her setting.

My mantra when I revise for setting is: “Sparse but specific.”

I just sent my newest WIP to my agent and am starting a new novel. What are you working on this week? And, do you have any favorite writing mantras?

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Tanana River

The Tanana River carves its way through birch forests and black spruce swamps. By Alaska standards it’s a pretty ordinary river: silty and swift, braided but no white-water, and glacial in its origins.

I float parts of the Tanana every summer.


Paul Tanana RiverA couple summers ago it was over eighty degrees and we had a tail wind for two days. But sometimes the wind blows so hard that you find yourself in a dust storm and five foot standing waves. One year I had a bad headache and what was usually enjoyable was tortuous.

Sometimes we find surprises, like the entrance to a wolf den.

wolf den

And that’s just summer. Here’s what the Tanana looked like yesterday.

 Tanana River freeze-up1


Soon I’ll be able to ski across it.

Several years ago three of my former students stole a canoe and took off down the Tanana. Maybe to have a Huck Finn adventure, I’m not sure. They swamped their canoe and ended up on a remote island in the middle of the river. Cold and soaked and with no supplies. Luckily a helicopter plucked them from the island after a couple of cold nights.

Take a look at the setting (or settings) in your story. Are you utilizing your setting to its potential? Look at it from odd angles and different seasons. Through different eyes.

And ask yourself : How do the setting details I choose to include drive the story forward? How do they develop character?

But most important, consider the emotional state of your POV character. Let that emotion infuse and drive setting description whether your character is in a warehouse or on top of a mountain. Otherwise, that description might stop your story dead in its tracks.

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